American Indians gather at Mount Rushmore for 40 year memorial

Rapid City, South Dakota (AP) September 2010

American Indians gathered at Mount Rushmore National Memorial to mark 40 years since their forebears occupied the monument as a political statement about disputed land claims to the Black Hills.

On Aug. 29, 1970, 23 Native Americans occupied the monument, some of them setting up camp for three months atop the mountain.

“It feels good that we had people who stood up and risked being arrested, losing their freedom at a place that represents freedom,” said Robert Cook, former president of the National Indian Education Association.

Those who gathered said some of the same issues involving tribal sovereignty and treaty rights remain today.

“Over the past 40 years, a lot has changed but a lot hasn’t,” Andrew Ironshell said. “I find myself fighting the same battles that my father and grandfather fought.”

The U.S. government more than a century ago set aside the Black Hills for the Sioux tribe through the Fort Laramie Treaty. But the land was taken by miners about a decade later when gold was discovered. The Supreme Court in 1980 ruled that the Black Hills were illegally taken and that restitution should be paid, but the Sioux refused the settlement.

“The total consensus of the Sioux nation is we will never accept money for our sacred sites. We will never accept money for our burial sites,” said Quanah Parker Brightman, vice president of United Native Americans.